Helen Ballard was the 'Queen of the breeders' of Hellebores - a rather grand nurserywoman of the English midlands, known for the quality and wide range of forms that she introduced,
Grown from seed descended from the famous named forms, these plants produce flowers that must be some of the finest and most beautiful of the race we have to offer. The waxy flowers can be 7.5cm (3in) or more across and are produced in a variety of colours from dark purple to white - often extravagantly mottled and marked.
This hardy perennial is suited to a site in dappled shade, preferably under deciduous shrubs or trees and make wonderful underplanting, which has semi-evergreen foliage, and flowers between November and April, sometimes later depending on the weather. This delightful plant grows to around 45cm (18in) high when in flower and forms dense clumps to 50cm (20in) wide.
Helleborus bring a magical touch to the garden during the winter whilst most other plants slumber. The large cup shaped flowers have a dainty appearance that defies nature by surviving the cold. The glossy dark green evergreen foliage highlights the beauty of the dappled flower. These truly are beautiful, a bed of these plants in flower will not go unnoticed.
Helen Ballard “A queen among plants people”
Mrs. Ballard came to the hellebore scene late in life, starting her collection with only four plants, two reds and two whites. She planted them in a shady cold border on a farm at Malvern where they thrived and when their first crop of flowers thrust their way through the ground in the depths of winter she was hooked.
From those four were then borne the famous Ballard strain of hybrid orientalis type Hellebores. Her overriding aims were twofold, only the strongest most healthy specimens were involved in the breeding program and the plants were selected for large outward facing flowers, a very difficult trait to stabilise. Hybridisation was always carried out with as large a gene pool as possible to ensure that the vigour was maintained and self-pollination was never considered. New colours were gradually introduced by using collected species from various corners of Europe, yellow from H. odorous, darker purples and blacks from H. torquatus, the slate greys and purples from H .purpurascens and of course a combination of these and others.
As well as hybridising the orientalis types she also did a lot of work with the Christmas Rose, H. niger, producing a very large flowered strain and also an assortment of crosses with H. lividus and H. argutifolius and the resulting seedlings.
At the time of her death she had produced hellebores unmatched anywhere in the world, in a superb colour range in almost every shade imaginable.
"The Hellebore Queen" by Gisela Schmiemann.
This spectacular book, with impressive though stylised photography, gives the full story of Helen Ballard's hellebore breeding achievement. Not an essential book, but necessary for the more devoted of hellebore fanatics.
Unfortunately this interesting book is very hard to find. It's available from the Royal Horticultural Society bookshop at Wisley but is not in their online catalogue.
Publisher: Edition Art And Nature; First Edition edition (1997). ASIN: B001G5XY2E
Sowing: Sow seeds immediately upon receipt, at any time of year.
Hellebore orientalis seeds are collected in June. If they are planted in the first few months, they will germinate quickly in around 30 days. Once the weather starts to get cold in autumn, they will go dormant and delay germination until the weather warms up in the spring and conditions are more favourable.
Text books quote germination as ‘irregular’ and advise 30 to 545 days, in our experience 30 to 180 days is usual, dependent on the time of year that they are planted.
Sow in moist John Innes seed compost or something similar, place each container in a polythene bag or place a plastic lid onto the container. Place in a cold greenhouse or coldframe. The compost should be kept moist but not wet at all times.
Some of the seeds will germinate straight away, some during the spring and summer, any remaining seeds may lay dormant until the following spring. If any seeds do not germinate in the spring keep them in cool moist conditions throughout the summer.
As each seed germinates transplant it almost immediately into its own 7.5cm (3in) pot to grow on. These strong plants need more nutrients and water than small cells can provide. Keep seedlings in a well lit place, but out of direct sun.
Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out, space 30cm (12in) apart.
If your soil is high in organic matter, and has a fairly good water holding capacity, then Hellebores will grow wonderfully in your garden. Hellebores have a deep growing root system and they will benefit greatly if the area is prepared before planting. Double digging the area (digging out one shovel depth of soil, and then digging up the second layer of soil, and then putting the top layer back on and digging it all together) with additional organic matter is of great advantage. Add some sharp sand if your soil is especially heavy and sticky.
Hellebores prefer a neutral to alkaline soil Ph (they will grow in a slightly acidic Ph soil too). Mushroom compost or well decomposed garden compost is good as an additive.
Hellebores are Mediterranean plants, and they prefer moist but well drained soil, a period of drying our between watering is of great benefit to good overall growth.
Cut down flowers as they are over to encourage basal growth or leave to set seed. Once the plant has flowered and new foliage shows signs of emerging, you can cut away the old leaves.
Hellebores will set seed with new plants coming up around the main plant. Seedlings are easy to transplant to other parts of the garden.
Plants resent root disturbance and are slow to re-establish when divided and are best left undisturbed for 6 to 7 years before being divided. Should you ever have to move a plant, dig a ball of earth around its roots as you would for a shrub.
Do not use chemical fertilisers as it is extremely sensitive to them and burns easily. Stick to dressing with compost or aged manure in the autumn.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds or Under-planting roses and shrubs.
As a cut flower, these flowers float on water and will stay fresh for many days. Take care when handling the plant as it may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.
Please take care when handling as the plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.
Helleborus orientalis is native to areas of Eurasia including Greece, Turkey and the Caucasus region. There are many hybrid versions of this plant. Depending on the hybrid, the leathery, mid to dark green leaves may be deciduous or overwintering.
Helleborus x hybridus is the name given to a group of variable, clump forming, perennial hybrids of H. orientalis and other species. The name has only recently been accepted and many labels in the gardens identify plants as Helleborus orientalis.
Hellebores like many members of the family Ranunculaceae, have a huge range of flower colours and forms and hybridise freely. Other members of this family like Clematis, Anemone and Delphinium all show the same plasticity of flower form and colour.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Family Ranunculaceae Genus Helleborus Species X hybridus (formerly orientalis) Cultivar Helen Ballards Strain Common Name Hellebore, Christmas Rose, Lenten Rose
(formerly Helleborus orientalis)
Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers From dark purple to white, often extravagantly mottled and marked. Natural Flower Time Mid winter to late spring Foliage Semi-evergreen. Height 45 to 50cm (18 to 20in) Spread Forms dense clumps to 50cm (20in) wide. Position Partial Shade to Full Shade Soil Prefer rich, moist but well drained soil, Time to Sow Sow seeds immediately upon receipt, at any time of year. Germination 30 to 545 days. Dependent on time of year planted.